Harry Whittaker
Studies in the Gospels

186. Warnings to Judas (Matt. 26:21 -25; Mark 14:18-21; Luke 22:21-23; John 13:18-30)*

There in the Upper Room Jesus renewed the stirring promise made to Peter a week earlier (Mt.19 :28): "Ye shall sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel" (Lk.22 :30). But on this occasion he did not say twelve thrones. The omission was probably deliberate, for one of these twelve at the table with him was soon to despise the meekness of Christ and forfeit all title to royal honour with him.

So Jesus went on to say plainly: "I speak not to you all: I know whom I have chosen." Twelve had been chosen to share his life of humility and service, but only eleven to be with him in his future glory—because one of them was turned traitor "that the scripture might be fulfilled, He that eateth bread with me hath lifted up his heel against me."

The words carried a plain implication of predestination—and indeed this was not the only occasion where such an expression was on the Lord's lips: "the Son of man goeth as it hath been determined" (Lk.22 :22). The idea that everything in his experience, big or small, was now pre-appointed, dominated the cast of his thinking at this time. And yet nothing is more certain than the fact that Judas did what he did because he chose to do it: "Woe unto that man by whom the Son of man is betrayed."

"When therefore Jesus was risen from the dead, his disciples remembered . . . and they believed the Scripture . . . and the word which Jesus had said" (Jn.2 :22). If, then, the resurrection of Jesus brought light, in place of mystification, to that which was known but not comprehended, what will be the greater fruits of personal resurrection?

"He that eateth bread with me'—these words from Psalm 41 need to be read with care, for there are times when correct conclusions concerning it become important, especially in view of its bearing on the question of acceptance at the Lord's Table of those who have shown themselves disloyal to Christ.

The facts of the gospel narrative point to the conclusion that Judas probably shared the Bread with the Lord and with his fellow-disciples but that he did not partake of the Wine. For, it was "as they were eating" (Mt.26:26) that Jesus gave thanks for the Bread; and "likewise the cup after supper" (Lk.22 :20). But evidently the meal was still in progress when Jesus gave the sop to Judas who thereupon "went immediately out" (Jn.13 :30).

There seems to be a big probability that Judas did take the Bread with the rest, for these words from Psalm 41—'he that eateth bread with me ... '—would surely be too trivial for inclusion or quotation if just referring to ordinary food. The word for "eateth" disallows such a meaning (see Study 184).

Also, there is this consideration—that the Lord was dearly willing for Judas to continue in fellowship with the others. There is no hint of a deliberate attempt to be rid of him, but the very opposite.

Then how great should be the reluctance and hesitance of a modern ecclesia before taking any kind of drastic action against the unfaithful or disloyal I

The remarkable reading in the Septuagint version: "the man of my peace, on whom I set my hope", perhaps picks out Judas the apostle with greater potentialities than any of the others. Certainly there must have been some specially remarkable aptitudes in this man that he should be selected to collaborate with eleven others so different from himself.

Yet these possibilities never came to fruition. Instead, he "lifted up his heel" against his Leader. This prophecy from Psalm 41 just quoted by Jesus was intended not only as a warning to Judas but also to forearm the rest against the faith-testing events of the next few hours: "From henceforth I tell you before it come, that when it come to pass ye may have faith." For the same reason he prepared their minds for his going away to the Father (14 :29), and also for the ensuing persecution when they should attempt to preach his gospel (16 :4). Thus he turned serious tests of faith into grounds for assurance that they were following no will-o-the-wisp (Lk.24:52; Acts 5:41).

Receiving Christ

It is no easy matter to relate the next words of Jesus to their context. Since they were spoken with the meal still in progress, it is possible that the ellipsis should be filled out with allusion to that: "He that receiveth (at my Table) whomsoever I shall send, receiveth me." On this Burgon adds the pungent observation: "Woe to those who forget that the reverence thus shown them is in reality shown to their Master!"

It was a lesson the Apostle John soberly reinforced in later days: "Beloved, thou doest faithfully whatsoever thou doest toward them that are brethren and strangers withal... whom thou wilt do well to set forward on their journey worthily of God, because that for the sake of the Name they went forth, taking nothing of the Gentiles. We therefore ought to welcome such that we may be fellow-workers with the Truth" (3 Jn.5-8). The converse is also true: "Diotrephes, who loveth to have the preeminence among them, receiveth us not. Therefore, if I come, I will bring to remembrance his works which he doeth" (v.9,10).

In the Day of Reckoning this will be for many the ground of approval or rejection: "Inasmuch as ye did it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye did it unto me ... Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not tome"(Mt.25:40,45).

For this very reason the Lord's warnings of impending betrayal became the more pointed. He spoke to them under tremendous stress of emotion—he was "troubled in spirit." This was not the same as ch.12 : 27: "Now is my soul troubled," or Matthew 26 :38: "My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death," when he wrestled against a natural reaction from the horror of suffering which lay before him.

Here, by contrast, the Lord's concern was for Judas. So with what appropriateness are the words the same as when he stood at the graveside of Lazarus (Jn.ll :33,38), for here—as there—it was the "death" of a close friend which stirred his emotion.

A possible reading is: "he was troubled (stirred) by the Spirit, and testified ..." This would indicate inspiration of an exceptional character, and also provide a remarkably close parallel to the troubling of the waters of Bethesda by the angel (Jn. 5 :4)—but Judas, alas, did not hasten to be healed.

"Is it I?"

"Behold, the hand of him that betrayeth me is with me on the table" (Lk.22 :21). No warning could be more blunt than this, and the disciples were greatly disturbed and even aggrieved by it. "Exceeding sorrowful" (Mt.26 :22) hardly gives the right idea. So upset were they that they kept on coming back to this ominous warning during the rest of the meal, making anxious enquiry: "Lord, it is not I, is it?" The form of the question, in Greek, requires this reading of it.

The enigmatic reply Jesus gave was at once a further warning to the traitor and also an expression of consideration for his feelings: "He that dipped his hand with me in the dish, the same shall betray me" (Mt.26 :23)—not as AV, "he that dippeth" for then the disciples would not have been flesh and blood if thereafter they had not watched lynx-eyed so as to identify the traitor! In the course of the meal, none of them would have taken special notice of anything so trivial as whose hand happened to dip into the dish at the same moment as the hand of Jesus. But Judas—as the one so concerned—would recall this coincidence, and would know himself identified by his Master as the traitor.

Jesus continued the warning with words of unequalled solemnity: "The Son of Man goeth as it is written of him (Lk: determined): but woe unto that man by whom the Son of man is betrayed" (s.w. ls.53 :12 LXX: 'poured out'). Here again in the forefront of his thinking was the strange paradox of predestination and free choice. And no wonder, for all the great work of God in him was thus marked out beforehand. This word "determined" is used with equal force not only about his sacrifice (Acts2 :23) but also about his resurrection (Romans 1 :4) and his coming as Judge and King (Acts 10 :42 and 17 :26,31). Such emphasis invites the reader in Christ to consider to what extent the same kind of "predestination" may be true of himself.

Even though it was mysteriously true of the traitor, there was still time for Judas to draw back, and so there would be, right up to the fatal moment when he greeted his Master with a kiss. Hence the repeated appeals and sombre warnings.

"It had been good for that man if he had not been born." The words are more difficult than they appear, for in Greek they read very awkwardly. The alternative: "It had been good for him (Jesus) if that man had not been born," is more exact but more difficult of interpretation, The meaning might then be: 'I would be far happier on his account if he had not been born—better never to have been a disciple than to have been such a disciple.' Or maybe Jesus had before his mind the unhappy picture of himself as Judge, and Judas before him with weeping and gnashing of teeth.

But Judas was impervious to such entreaties. He too leaned across with his enquiry "Master, (there is no recorded instance of Judas calling Jesus "Lord')—Master, it is not I, is it?" Why did he ask?—simply because he feared to be conspicuous by not asking as the others were then doing? or because he feared that this uncanny knowledge of Jesus might yet thwart his plans?

For answer he had a point-blank affirmative: "Thou hast said" (compare Mt.26 :64 with Mk.14 :62). Judas was being made to look his own problem squarely in the face. No man can conquer temptation except he first face up to it honestly and with his Lord to help him. Judas, now is your best and almost your last opportunity! Will you grasp the helping hand now being offered?

But instead he seems to have turned his Master's answer into confirmation of his evil plan: 'It is clear that Jesus has no further use for me; and he has this fatalistic expectation of imminent death, so my own line of action is clear; more than this, he knows, or suspects, my intentions, so I must act promptly lest a different mood come over him and he thwart my scheme.'

Meantime the eleven, after their repeated "Is it I?" (a model for self-examination at the Lord's Table! 1 Cor. 11 :28), now turned their attention to one another: "they kept on looking one on another, doubting of whom he spake." Yet even now there was no hint of a general suspicion of Judas-an indication of how completely the traitor lived his own life in his own world even whilst continuing to be an intimate member of the apostolic band. Yet how true to life this is, for even the most open and frank disciple of Jesus is a bundle of secrets to those who know him best.

The eleven took their doubting a stage further: "they began to enquire among themselves which of them should do this thing." The word "began" perhaps implies that this anxious questioning went on intermittently throughout the meal. It would be surprising if it didn't. And thus a cloud was cast over their fellowship at the table—as indeed has often happened since, the presence of one fellowservant out of tune with the rest being wonderfully effective to destroy the sense of fellowship which might otherwise be theirs in worship and remembrance.

But whilst they "enquired among themselves," Peter, with the forthright directness so characteristic of him, was set on enquiry from Jesus. But he was unable to do this in person, for the lesson, the washing of feet, had gone home and he had now taken one of the lowest places remote from his Master.

Although normally the Jews sat at table after the modern style, for Passover and special occasions they adopted the Greek and Roman practice of reclining on divans, the left elbow supported on a cushion and the feet inclining away from the line of the table. John was immediately on the right of Jesus and thus "in his bosom". Judas was either on his left (Mt.25:31-41) or immediately opposite him.

Peter, then, unable to satisfy his curiosity more directly without creating a disturbance, beckoned to John to help him in this matter. Perhaps it was not just idle curiosity which prompted Peter's enquiry. His known character and vigorous exploit later that same evening (Jn.18:10) suggest a possible intention of taking some strong action against the traitor.

It was particularly easy for John, as the one whom Jesus loved and who reclined so close to him, to whisper: "Who is it, Lord?". The words would not be heard even by Judas, though it is not unlikely that Peter's gesture inciting John to make the enquiry attracted Judas's mystified or resentful attention.

At a suitable moment Jesus gave the sign which he had indicated in his reply. Putting point to the prophecy he had lately quoted, he dipped a sop in the near-by dish and handed it to Judas. This was, doubtless, a special gesture, as to an honoured guest. It was intended to show Judas how close he might be to his Master and how highly esteemed, if only he would relinquish his traitorous intentions and realise the true potentialities of his discipleship. This special attention to a lost disciple was entirely in the spirit of the Lord's own parable about a lost sheep. It stands as a model for those seeking to reclaim any who are lost, or being lost, to the ecclesia of Christ today.

Judas's regress

The defection of Judas had been gathering momentum for a full year (Jn.6 :66-71). It is hardly likely that in all that time Jesus had made no attempt at all to stop the rot in his disciple's mind.

The repeated appeals and warnings now made to him in the upper room are impressive when seen as a sequence:

John 13:5:
The washing of his feet.
John 13 :10:
"And ye are clean, but not all."
John 13:18:
The quoting of the prophecy of betrayal.
John 13 :21:
The point-blank warning: "One of you shall betray me."
John 13:26:
And now, the sop.
There would also be special force for Judas in such, sayings as:
Luke 12:15:
"Beware of covetousness."
Matt. 19:30:
"The first shall be last."
Matt. 20:16:
"Many are called, but few are chosen."
Luke 19:13:
The parable of the worthless disciple.

In addition to the double reason already suggested for the giving of the sop to Judas there may have been yet further purpose in doing so. Jesus so often gave counsel or rebuke in the words of Scripture that it would be surprising if this were not also true here. Almost the same Greek word as that for "sop" comes in Isaiah 58:14 LXX: "Feed thee." This remarkable passage is so entirely appropriate to Judas and his activities that one can almost imagine Jesus quoting the words quietly to him as he handed him the sop:

"If thou turn away thy foot . . . from doing thine own pleasure on my holy day (the Passover) . . . and shalt honour him, not doing thine own ways, nor . . . speaking thine own words: then thou shalt delight thyself in the Lord; and I will cause thee to ride upon the high places of the earth (Judas's nationalistic ambitions?), and feed thee (the sop!) with the heritage of Jacob (Lk.22 :30) ... But your iniquities have separated between you and your God . . . your hands are defiled with blood . . . your lips have spoken lies, and your tongue hath muttered perverseness . . . they conceive mischief, and bring forth iniquity (the agreement with the chief priests) . . . They hatch adder's eggs (the seed of the serpent: Gen.3 :15), and weave the spider's web (to catch Jesus as their prey) . . . they make haste to shed innocent blood (the very words of Judas a few hours later: Mt.27 :4) . . . there is no judgment in their goings . . . whosever goeth therein shall not know peace" (ls.58 :13-59:8).

What Satan?

The reader of John's gospel now encounters a puzzling detail: "And after the sop Satan entered into him (Judas)/' In the vague general sense of "sin in the flesh" Satan had always had his abode in Judas. Also, such a view is made more superfluous than ever by the earlier statement (Jn.13 :2) that "the devil had already (RV) put it into the heart of Judas to betray." It is well to remember here that the New Testament passages where "Satan" represents an abstract evil principle are remarkably few. Usually the reference is to some wicked person or organization. Moreover any interpretation here which equates "Satan" with a Satanic frame of mind is, in effect, a serious demeaning of Jesus himself, for its suggests that the most gracious appeal any man could make to another provoked only a most evil and violent reaction.

An alternative is to interpret the Satan as an emissary of the chief priests who "entered into (the house)" seeking to contact Judas. The same word is used in precisely this sense; e.g. Jn. 10:1,2 and 18 :1,23,33 and 19 :9; there are scores of other instances. Let it be remembered also that it would be almost impossible for this group of eleven men to enter Jerusalem without being observed and followed by the Gestapo.

The scene may be imagined: 'Judas, there is a man below, asking to see you.' Naturally enough, the rest of the disciples assumed that it was some tradesman delivering commodities Judas had ordered for the impending Passover celebration, or that it was some poor fellow who needed help out of their common fund.

From this point of view the words of Jesus: "That thou doest, do quickly," would be readily understood by the rest as meaning: Discharge this business as quickly as you can, and rejoin us without delay. But Jesus may have meant: "That thou doest, have done with it quickly'—a last desperate appeal to him to forsake his evil intention forthwith.

Futile appeal

The saying is usually taken as an almost involuntary expression of the tense eagerness of Jesus to "get it over" (cp. Lk.12 :50). But is it likely that Jesus would thus give way to self-pity at a time when, as every phrase in the context shows, he was deeply concerned about, and was concentrating on, the well-being of his disciples, and of Judas in particular? In the upper room, even when he was "troubled in spirit" (v.21), it was because he knew about the traitor.

Since both of the disciples' surmises had to do with money payments, it may be that Judas actually had the money-bag in his hand as he went out—deliberately, with intention to mislead them, and also of course because this was the last time he would be with them and to him money meant more than immortality.

In another place John has already put it on record that "Judas was a thief... and bare (RV: took away) what was put therein" (Jn.12 :6). The Greek word does not mean "misappropriated", but the context shows that the RV is right. There was no auditor in that first ecclesia, and this money-minded disciple had already salted away some of the common fund in the acquisition of property for himself—he "purchased a field with the reward of his iniquity" (Acts 1 :18), a field which later waste be the scene of his tragic and grisly end.

But the death of Judas was not more tragi than his life as a follower of Jesus. Since the rest assumed that he might be busy with charity to the poor (a highly appropriate activity on the evening before the Passover), it is clear that he was not only treasurer but also almoner on behalf of the apostolic band. So although his office doubtless exposed him to special temptations, it also brought him special blessings in his intimate contacts with human misery on the one hand and the gracious kindness of his Master on the other. It is evident that copious almsgiving by "the Son of man, who had not where to lay his head" was a characteristic practice of Jesus. Yet apart from Jn.12 :5 and 13 :29 nothing would have been known about that side of his life.

Many a disciple since that day, bewildered with the complex problems of how best to minister charity without condescension or an air of patronising, without grudging or the demoralising effect of over-generosity, has wished himself in the shoes of Judas to experience personally how Jesus would meet these difficulties. Judas had these privileges but they wrought no transforming influence in his character, presumably because he never faced up honestly to what was his besetting sin.

So the Lord's protracted series of appeals to Judas failed. This fact, dismal though it is, is not without a certain comfort for those who have had similar dispiriting experiences—their disappointments are only an echo of their Master's.

Like Cain (Gen.4 ;16) and the unforgiving debtor (Mt.18 :28), Judas went out from the presence of the Lord. And, like Cain, he went out to his own downfall. For, whilst there was opportunity for repentance right up to the dramatic moment in Gethsemane, he had now made the break, and experience in every generation has shown that once a man becomes apostate by deliberate choice, only a sublime humility can set him on the way back again.

Instead, from this time on, Judas became in the mind of the early church the very symbol of slow secret disloyalty blossoming into open avowed apostasy from the Truth: "Little children," wrote John, using the very expression employed by Jesus after Judas' departure (Jn.13 :33), "it is the last time. . . even now there are many antichrists . . . They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us: but (they went out) that they might be manifest. . . who is (this) liar, but he that denieth that Jesus is the Christ?" (1 Jn.2 :18,19,22). There is here surely (in v.22) an additional hint that Judas had lost faith in Jesus as the Messiah?

Paul similarly prophesied of the apostate Man of Sin as "the son of perdition" (2 Thess.2:3), using the very title which Jesus had for Judas (Jn.17:12). And Peter, warning against false teachers, plainly had Judas in mind as the prototype of all traitors to the Truth—'even denying the Lord that bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction . . . and through covetousness shall they with feigned words make merchandise of you" (2 Pet.2 :1,3).

So "Judas went out, and it was night." There is hardly a reader of John's gospel who has not been impressed with the intensely symbolic value of these words. The darkness of night had descended on the soul of Judas. He had made his own choice also of "outer darkness" (Mt.25 :30) in the Day of Judgment.

The Master had made his last supreme effort as a Good Shepherd to save one of his sheep that was lost. But there was to be no gathering of this lamb with his arm. Instead, "Judas went out, and it was night."

"The Son of man glorified"

The soul of Jesus must have been chilled by this deliberate choice, as though the frost of that Passover night had entered into his very marrow. And yet he went on immediately: "Now is the Son of man glorified, and God is glorified in him" (13:30,31).

Here is an enigma calling for solution. Is it possible that the moving message of Isaiah 49*) was dominating the Lord's thinking? "Thou artx-my Servant, O Israel, in whom I will glorified... Though Israel be not gathered, yet shall I be glorious in the eyes of the Lord" (49 :3,5). In Study 169 it has already been shown that this great prophecy was probably in the mind of Jesus on an earlier occasion. Some of the outstanding points of contact between this powerful sustaining Scripture and John 12 were tabulated there.

It is conceivable, then, that Judas' going out into the night to consummate the betrayal of his Master would be to Jesus the symbol of his rejection by Israel. But by the prophecy he was enabled to look beyond that to the glorifying of God through the ultimate triumph of his work: "I will also give thee for a light to the Gentiles, that thou mayest be my salvation unto the end of the earth" (49:6).

This, assuredly, would glorify Christ and would mean the glorifying of his Father in a way altogether unsuspected at that time by Pharisee or Sadducee or even by disciple. ' But the word of Jesus was : "and straightway he shall glorify him." The Son glorified the Father in his ready and humble obedience, even to the death of the cross. That surpassing act of self-denial and self-sacrifice meant, by all worldly standards, shame and misery. But human judgements are invariably inverted: "Ye turn things upside down" (Is.29 :16). For all the wretchedness and ignominy which Golgotha spelled out, the Bible word is "glory'—glory to the Son, and to the Father well-pleased with the redemption of sinners through the blood of a perfect sacrifice.

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